Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Archive for March 2013

New Track: Steep Canyon Rangers Interview

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A new track on SoundCloud “Steep Canyon Rangers Interview”:

The Steep Canyon Rangers is a five member traditional bluegrass band out of North Carolina that sings the stories of Appalachia. Charles Humphrey does bass and harmony vocals to the group. Don Merrill had the chance to talk with him about the harmonies, investing in community and the legacy of the music from Bill Monroe to Steve Martin.

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March 30, 2013 at 10:18

Posted in Scratchpad

The Ask

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Asking opens doors.  Asking makes the unconsidered, the inconceivable and the unapproachable, possible.  Asking is the wild card of the universe.  Because before we ask, we don’t know.  And because we don’t know, we assume.  And because we all have our own egos, large and small, we think we already know the answer.  So, we try to work around the issue to get to where we want to be without asking.  We try to get what we want without taking the one critical path that will definitively get us there, yes or no. 

We may think we don’t have the courage to ask or the stomach to ask or the humility to ask or the time to ask.  But not asking can set in motion a cascading, Angry Birds kind of collapse of the expectations we built thinking we can achieve escape velocity from metaphysical gravity.

Sometimes, only one person can make it happen and that person wants their respect before they give you yours.  Or they’ve been waiting a long time to deny you what you deeply want and you both know it.  Or, they’ve been dying to help you, but they want you to man or woman up and ask.  Sometimes, you don’t ask because you don’t want to know, but everything and everybody in your orbit is stopped, like some kind of Twilight Zoney solstice and they’re all waiting for you to move on. And of course, you can be stuck, forced to ask the wrong person who may take your ask and use it against you. But the ask isn’t about who you ask as much as it is about the act of asking and the direction that compass needle points. Yes, you can be betrayed. But the world is full of roads to your own Lotus blossom. Ask somebody else since The Ask can also help you circumvent demigods. Consequently, you may have to make a lot of asks before you finally get to an answer you’ve been praying for. But it’s possible to that answer will never come, no matter how may people you ask. And if you’re facing a wall because there is nobody else to ask, live with it … for now.  

Like all roads lead to Rome, sometimes, all routes and passageways do point you to your one and only one Omega man or woman. Of course, you can always opt out of the ask, and everything connected with it.  Our time here is full of smaller asks that we can avoid or can work around or can face easier than others.  Rarely in life does it come down to the one ask that changes everything.  But it does tend to happen, significantly, at least once.  And when it does, it’s usually the biggest thing we’ve faced, or will face.  So we can choose to not play it out, but chances are, it’ll be the one decision we’ll never forget; the one that will affect all the rest. 

The Ask is the crack of the bat in John Fogerty’s “Put me in Coach.”  The Ask, at the right time and to the right person, crushes everything else. The Ask can slam doors shut or blast them open. But to get either result for sure, you have to do it, face it, let it send you flying – up or down. Because in the end, the ask is all about you.

Written by Interviewer

March 26, 2013 at 22:31

Checking

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Checking WordPress against my IFTTT recipes to make sure everything is going where it’s supposed to. This is maintenance.

Written by Interviewer

March 26, 2013 at 11:14

Posted in Scratchpad

A Rough and Rowdy Time

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I just read “Long Night at Today” by the New York Magazine’s Joe Hagan.  Excellent play-by-play of the meltdown on the set and in the boardrooms of NBC’s flagship morning talk show property.  Since Dave Garroway and Joe Garagiola and Jane Pauley, the Today Show has been where millions of people go to have their hands held as they meet the new day.  But as Mr. Hagan so pointedly explained, if the network makes their audience love its hosts, it shouldn’t be surprised when they react to what they perceive as a stink from 30 Rock Studio 1A.

See, the thing about that strategy, and make no mistake, it is a strategy; it’s always a doubled edged sword.  You want viewers to fall in love with the people they “invite into their homes” to coin an ancient broadcasting cliché.  But, because the broadcasting business is so full of brutality, you have to decide if throwing somebody out of a window after they have outlived their usefulness will cost you more than you expect to make in the long run from the slow, painful but expected recovery.  So it’s a psychological calculus marinated in the economics of cost benefit analysis. It’s got little to do with viewers because if it did, networks would save the money they waste on set changes and tweaks to theme music and repeated attempts to force the tired back down their audience’s throats.  

At the end of his piece, Mr. Hagan quotes several principals who say they don’t know whether the departed anchor was innocent or purposeful in her refusal to help the show repair its image by playing nicer with sitting hosts.  But that reminded me of a quote by Malcolm X., upon learning that the 1964 Civil Rights Act had become law.  On an airport tarmac, he said (paraphrasing) “Why should I thank somebody who sticks a knife six inches in my back and pulls it out three?” 

I once worked for an organization for which I had lost my love.  But I had taken dozens of photos in the course of my time with it because, in happier days, I intended to create something that I thought would help me memorialize its legacy in a positive way.  When it became known that I had taken these personal photos with my personal camera, I was asked by a nemesis for the photos because no other such record existed and I would be seen as a “team player.”

In that moment, I practically vomited the photos from my posession, mostly because the idea that this person, representing this Delilah of an organization, would speak to me about “team” with the sincerity that a Cuttlefish tries to hypnotize it’s prey before striking, was uproariously revolting.  And since I wanted nothing that connected us, they and the photos were jettisoned, as if by peristalsis, and forgotten.

On some TV studio sets, as well as in countless other organizations I’m sure, the concept of cutting ties by not trying to help them out of a tough spot may not be so foreign.  As a former intelligence analyst said of policy failures during the Bush administration, “We might be willing to take a bullet, but we’re not going to take a whole clip of bullets.”

Written by Interviewer

March 26, 2013 at 09:36

New Track: Hatian V Interview

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A new track on SoundCloud “Hatian V Interview”:

Haitian V., aka Vladimir Barthelemow Thelonious Rasputin Slocumb Calixte The 3rd, is a Haitian comic and entertainer with Flatbush, NY roots. He was recently in the Pacific Northwest to not only promote Haitian music but to support the Haitian community. Don Merrill had the chance to talk with this quiet, funny man who avoids always being comically “on” but who is never intellectually “off.”

Written by Interviewer

March 26, 2013 at 01:54

Posted in Scratchpad

New Track: Melanie Davis Interview

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A new track on SoundCloud “Melanie Davis Interview”:

Melanie Davis is the owner of Brilliant Media, Su Publica Ad Agency, El Hispanic News and Proud Queer Monthly. Despite her youth, the road to magnate has been a long one, beginning with an iconic grandmother in her childhood home of New Mexico. Don Merrill talks with lesbian latina Melanie Davis about what she loves about Portland, the publishing business and why she’s OK crashing business meetings in her Harley gear.

Written by Interviewer

March 26, 2013 at 01:39

Posted in Scratchpad

Not Light on Depth

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Asteroid

In the middle of editing this most recent interview, I had to stop to write this post.  I’ve done a few dozen interviews now, and I’m starting to notice a pattern. Many of the people I talk to, whether they’re famous or up and coming, are surprised that I actually know something about who they are or what they do.  And that surprises me.  And for the people reading this post or listening to my interviews, it should surprise you.  Why?  Because if you’re interested in what I have to say, or what they have to say, it means. you expect me to be able to tell you something, and something not pat or cliche’ish, but something unusual, valuable, useful or unique.  And that’s stuff I can only get from taking the time to do the research.  It’s what gives the conversation credibility to convey.  And apparently, a lot of frustrated interviewees are interviewed by a lot of interviewers that don’t do that.

Russell Hitchcock of Air Supply said his partner Graham Russell has gotten up in the middle of lazy interviews and left because the interviewer started out with a question like, “So, what kind of music do you guy perform?”  Haitian V said essentially the same thing.  He told me he expected to be pissed off at me  because he expected that I was like other interviews he’d done where the interviewer hadn’t taken the time to learn anything about him, his life or his work.

I just wonder where else this happens in society and culture.  I remember that scene in “Armageddon” where the Jason Issacs character is trying to discredit a bad opinion from another presidential advisor on how to save the Earth from the asteroid collision, and says, “As the presidents’ chief scientific advisor, we were at MIT together.  And, in a situation like this, you – you really don’t wanna take the advice from a man who got a C minus in astrophysics.”

Just makes me wonder sometimes how may other C minus students are there out there running things.  I can certainly think of a few.  But my interviews will never be light on depth.